“No minister, anywhere, should ever have to submit a sermon to a government censor.” – Senator Rand Paul
Only minutes ago, Senator Rand Paul spoke up for the Houston pastors who have become the latest target in what religious leaders say is the city government’s ongoing war against its own churches. Messaging on Twitter, Senator Paul declared, “The First Amendment doesn’t exist to keep religion out of government. It exists to keep government out of religion.” Said Paul, “I stand with the pastors and churches in Houston against government interference and harassment.”
Houston city attorneys, under the direction of Mayor Annise Parker, have now subpoenaed sermons preached by selected pastors whom they believe are opposed to the city’s new agenda.
Here is a quick review of the unfolding drama in Houston.
Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly Lesbian mayor of a major city, promoted an ordinance banning anti-gay discrimination in the public and government subsidized venues. So far so good. But a controversial part of the ordnance allowed transgender citizens to file discrimination lawsuits if prohibited from a restroom. Was this a problem? Where there signs up saying, “No transgenders allowed?” Some Christian leaders now caught in the middle of the controversy contend that this was an angry politician, purposely poking the bear.
There were all kinds of discussions in the community. Who was to determine who was transgender and who was not? A doctor? A psychiatrist? Could a man suddenly declare himself a woman and enter a woman’s restroom? With under age children?
As the proponents of the ordinance hoped, the churches reacted with confusion and panic. There was a recall effort launched to get the ordinance on the ballot. The churches gathered more than 50,000 signatures. It was well over the 17,269 needed. And then the city poked again. The Houston city attorney declared that there were insufficient signatures.
The churches sued.
The city attorneys issued subpoenas for their sermons. And not sermons from the churches who filed the lawsuit. No, they wanted sermons from other pastors whom critics suspect were specifically targeted because they posed the biggest threat to the city’s agenda. The subpoena called for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by delivered by, revised by or approved by you or in your possession.”
Concerned Christian leaders insist that this is not a comedy of errors, that it is not a mistake but it is a systematic, purposeful attempt to silence and frighten the churches into changing their doctrines and suborning free speech. The city attorney’s will use taxpayer’s money to bankrupt the churches and silence their political voices. Thus the decision to go after the selected churches who were not even involved in the lawsuit with the city. It was much the same tactic that allowed the gay and lesbian takeover of the Episcopal Church, taking some congregations and using their resources to take over others. Only this time it is acted out in the public square with public money which will now be used to destroy the churches and silence their voices.
The city has deep pockets. In fact, the churchgoers, paying their taxes, will ironically finance the city of Houston in its war to destroy their own culture.
The Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other Liberal groups expressed alarm at the city’s overreach. Meanwhile, Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission expressed sadness at the events and astonishment at the “audacity” of the Houston City government’s attack on its own pastors and congregations.
Coincidentally, the day before the Houston subpoenas, Moore held a private meeting with Senator Rand Paul at the Senator’s office in Washington, D.C. Part of the conversation was about the war on Christianity unfolding in places around the world. Who would know what the next volley would be fired by the city government of Houston, Texas?
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has become the first public figure to openly declare what Christians have been bemoaning for the last generation, that there is a war against Christianity.
Speaking this afternoon before a gathering of the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington D.C., Senator Paul said, “There is a war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide.”
Said Paul, “It saddens me to see countries that are supposedly our allies persecute Christians.”
Catholics and born again Christians have talked about the danger for years. In the 1990’s, during my stint in the White House, as special assistant to the president, I was constantly called on to help Christians who were thrown into prisons or slated for execution all over the world.
Meanwhile, Christian ministries in the USA visited the White House complaining that they had been targeted by the IRS, a fact that the agency actually confirmed to us at the time, without shame. When we tried to find an Evangelical Christian who worked in a top position at the agency who could help us understand the nature of the complaints we learned that there was only one known, born again Christian in the top 300 positions at the IRS. At the time 38% of the nation claimed to be born again.
It turns out that the token “born again” Christian at the IRS was a regional director in the non-profit division and a Catholic Charismatic by personal faith. He tried to help the agency understand that it could not dictate doctrine or discriminate against groups based on their faith. We had two meetings with him at the White House and kept the president apprised. I think back to that moment as I now try to grasp the fact that top IRS officials visited the White House more than 300 times under Barack Obama and supposedly never discussed with the president their illegal bias against conservative groups including their questions of what applicants said in their prayers
In his speech Senator Paul offered a litany of abuses by American allies.
“In Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a Christian, sits on death row. Her crime, according to her, is that she dared to drink from a glass that belonged to a Muslim co-worker.
“Recently, in Pakistan, a 12-year-old with Down syndrome was imprisoned and charged with a death penalty crime for burning the Koran.
“After weeks she was released after a local Imam was accused of actually sprinkling pages from an Arabic book into a fire near the little girl.”
Senator Paul is the first public official to suggest a legislative solution. “My bill said that Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan would get no more foreign aid from the US taxpayer unless they turned over the assassins that killed our ambassador, pledged and verified that they CAN and WILL protect our embassies, and in the case of Pakistan they must release Dr. Afridi.”
Afridi is the man who helped us identify Osama Bin Laden. He was tortured and in chains for a year without being charged and is even now in prison in Pakistan.
As obvious as it may be to stand up for Christians (25% of the USA are Catholic, 48% claim to be born again Christians) Senator Paul is practically alone in his work. 90% of the Senate voted against his bill that would have placed restrictions on foreign aid to nations that execute Christians.
“It angers me to see my tax dollars supporting regimes that put Christians to death,” he said today. “And your government, or more correctly, you, the taxpayer, are funding it.”
Senator Rand Paul warned against a foreign policy that sometimes has good intentions that backfire.
“Before the Arab Spring, Christianity flourished in small outposts, like the Coptic Christians in Egypt. I had hoped that the Arab Spring would bring freedom to long-oppressed people throughout the Middle East, but I fear the Arab Spring is becoming an Arab winter.
“Today, Christians in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria are on the run—persecuted or under fire—and yet, we continue to send aid to the folks chasing them.
“The new leader of Egypt is Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Recently, he stood by when a radical cleric said a prayer for the destruction of Israel and her supporters in his presence.
“Actually, it is worse, he did not just stand by, he was seen to mouth the word ‘Amen’ as the cleric said these words of hatred.
“How does your government respond?
“The bipartisan consensus in Washington vows to increase Egypt’s funding. The President is currently requesting a billion dollar increase in aid to Egypt. This is an outrage!”
Senator Paul admitted that his bold stand had made him unpopular in Washington and while his famous filibuster and other stands on civil liberties have given him exposure that his father never had, his concern about the torture and execution of Christians in allied nations has been panned by the media.
Says Paul, “It is clear that American taxpayer dollars are being used to enable a war on Christianity in the Middle East and I believe that must end.”
Back in February 2011 Doug Wead warns about the Arab Spring, “Not so fast.”
Keep your Romney, give us Ron Paul !
The John McCain, eh sorry, the Mitt Romney campaign replayed a scene from past failed Republican candidates yesterday. They announced in the morning that Governor Romney would be the commencement speaker at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The school founded, by Jerry Falwell, is touted as the largest Christian University in the world. And in the afternoon they announced that openly gay, Richard Grenell, would be Romney’s new national security and foreign policy spokesman.
Students at Liberty were in an uproar. Not over Grenell, but over the University choosing Romney instead of their beloved Ron Paul. The firestorm began on the University’s own website, where the thread hit 700 comments in a couple of hours. The discussion was promptly censored and then shut down proving that the University is not very aptly named. But the discussion moved onto Facebook where it continues to spread.
(You can also join the discussion here.) http://www.facebook.com/DougWeadOfficial
Ron Paul has a large support base on campuses in general, all campuses, Christian or otherwise. According to Braedon Wilkerson, Ron Paul district coordinator, he carried the city of Lynchburg by a 51-49% margin and the newly created Liberty University precinct 60-40%. “The campus and the city belong to Ron Paul.”
Maybe not. It turns out that the campus resides on the Carter Glass’ estate. This is the same Senator Glass of the famous Glass-Owen act which established the Federal Reserve. There is even a plaque erected to him on campus, honoring the central bank. Mark DeMoss, who is the evangelical liaison for Mitt Romney, is on the Liberty board of directors.
Meanwhile, the Richard Grenell appointment sparked a fury of emails from prominent Newt Gingrich evangelicals who see the betrayal of their movement as imminent. As a former congressman wrote to me, “once again evangelicals get hind tit (sic).”
Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and “the Policy boys” of Family Research Council get most of the criticism.
A common suspicion of prominent evangelicals is that they sold the evangelical vote to Senator Rick Santorum in exchange for money to their nonprofit corporations even though Newt Gingrich was the more viable candidate. Indeed, the Iowa FRC leader Bob Vander Platts was reportedly asking Santorum for a million dollars. He eventually supported Santorum. Presumably, a national endorsement would be worth more.
A leader says, “They split the evangelical vote last time by dividing the Huckabee vote with Fred Thompson, giving us McCain as a result. ” And now the charge is that they have divided the vote again, giving Santorum a temporary boost, draining Gingrich, and giving Romney the nomination.
True to the 2008 cycle, Mitt Romney, like John McCain, refused to meet or seek evangelical support early enough. A visit to Liberty now, with the national elections only six months away shows very poor planning. The Romney evangelical meet and greets, which have to be done, should have been done a year ago, when he was planning the elevator for his car garage.
To announce it on the same day as the Richard Grenell announcement is a clumsy attempt to show respect to both the evangelical and gay communities. Instead it shows that the Romney campaign understands neither one.
Meanwhile, the Ron Paul campaign continues to chug along. The congressman raised almost as much money as Romney this quarter. He is the only candidate who beats Obama in the recent Rasmussen poll and his television commercials are on the air in Texas where lovers of liberty will appropriately make their last stand.
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated: “Ron Paul visited the Liberty University campus in 2008 but he was very poorly treated. He was given a small venue which could not hold the crowd. When he moved outside to speak to the young people who had missed him, the campus police showed up and “escorted” him off campus.”
This was how it was related to me by a RP staffer who must have remembered it wrong. Several people have pointed out that this version is incorrect. That, in fact, he was given a large venue.
Thanks everybody, keep me honest. Here is one of the corrections:
I do have to make a correction to just one piece of this article. I was a State Coordinator for the Ron Paul 2008 campaign and a former Professor at Liberty University. I arranged Ron Paul’s visit to Liberty in 2008. The venue was the Vines Center, which seats c. 10,000. Ron Paul did not have a small venue and did not have to move outside (except to leave). The place was packed, although it was easy to observe that most of those in the audience of 10,000 had been “prepped” to view Ron Paul negatively. Nevertheless it was a polite “coldness”. The “prepping” of the audience beforehand (a couple of days prior I was advised), was the only negative treatment given to Ron Paul during his visit in 2008. I was quite aware that the “leadership” of Liberty University did not support Ron Paul or at least some of his ideas (divided as they were between Huckabee, McCain, and Romney). The only campus police I saw (and remember, I was with Rep. Paul the whole time) were those who escorted us into the Vines Center and then later out. I too am very disappointed to see Liberty University jump on this latest “mainstream Republican” bandwagon. And I am happy to see the tremendous support for Ron Paul today at Liberty University and in Lynchburg, Virginia (where I lived 24 years). I just wanted to correct the “urban legend” regarding his 2008 visit.
Kevin L. Clauson, M.A., J.D.
Former State Coordinator, Ron Paul 2008
Former Chair/Professor of Government, Liberty University (’85-’07)
Professor/Director, Center for Law & Public Policy, Bryan College
Ron Paul to Obama and Romney: “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Get over it.”
News is now leaking out about a private meeting between evangelical leaders and presidential candidate Ron Paul which took place last Wednesday night. The leaders asked Dr. Paul about an Executive Order moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “The real issue here is not what America wants but what Israel wants. We have no right to chose their capital,” Dr. Paul said, “If they say it is Jerusalem, then it is Jerusalem.”
The Barack Obama administration has consistently rejected this idea and Governor Mitt Romney steadfastly refuses to make a commitment on the issue.
The meeting held last Wednesday night in Ft. Worth, Texas, had two representatives of evangelicals presenting Dr. Paul with a list of questions they had received from denominational leaders, pastors and television evangelists. In the wake of Senator Rick Santorum’s departure from the presidential race, many evangelical leaders are turning to Ron Paul.
The question to Dr. Paul was posed by Rev. Brian Jacobs, one of the evangelical participants. Jacobs, a former consultant to the Billy Graham Association and a pastor of the Ft. Worth Metroplex Church asked the question at the beginning of the meeting. According to Jacobs, Dr. Paul asked, “How would we feel if some other nation told us that we would have to make our capital in New York and they refused to build their embassy in Washington, D.C. It is none of our business.”
Paul’s answer even surprised some of his own staff.
In earlier interviews Dr. Paul has stated that we should stop being Israel’s master and start being her friend and trading partner. In 1981, Dr. Paul was the only public figure who defended Israel’s military action when she took out the Iraqi nuclear facilities. He, alone, in the U.S. Congress, refused to condemn the action saying that Israel has the right to defend herself without approval of the United States.
Dr. Paul, nevertheless, has been the target of vitriolic attacks from evangelical leader, Gary Bauer, who issued a fund raising letter criticizing the Texas congressman for wanting to “cut off foreign aid to Israel.” Bauer’s letter failed to mention that Dr. Paul is calling for the end of all foreign aid, which not only includes the $3 billion the United States gives to Israel but also the $12 billion it gives to Israel’s avowed enemies, including Palestinians, who publicly proclaim that they will drive her into the sea. Dr. Paul points to America’s practice of borrowing money from China to give to Pakistan as foolish.
Ron Paul campaign officials have long complained that their man is so intellectually honest and so committed to a constitutional form of government he is easily tripped up by issues taken out of context by a demagogue.
On December 29, 2011, the Israeli Mossad Chief, Tamir Pardo, told 100 ambassadors gathered in Jerusalem that a “nuclear Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel.” When Dr. Paul said something similar in a debate the next week, insisting that we should not go to war with Iran on a presidential executive decision but only by consultation with the congress, he was heavily criticized and ridiculed.
In a GOP debate on January 9, 2012, Ron Paul said that, anyway, Iran was not on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon. This statement too, was heavily criticized and called “dangerous” by media pundits. When Secretary of Defense, Leon Paneta said the same thing three days later on the CBS program Face the Nation no one apologized to Dr. Paul.
In the meeting with evangelicals Dr. Paul was asked questions about his personal faith. The Ron Paul campaign issued a statement of faith at the beginning of the campaign with Dr. Paul declaring “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and I endeavor every day to follow Him in all I do and in every position I advocate.” But the congressman admitted that his faith is very much a private matter.
Justin Machacek, an Emmy Award winning Christian television producer, asked Dr. Paul how his faith shaped his worldview.
Dr. Paul said, “I am not big on public displays and marches. I would not want a theocracy.” But as to how his faith shaped his character and his worldview? “You know I’ve been married 55 years,” he laughed, “So it is pretty obvious. It is how I live my life.”
Mr. Machacek said he was deeply moved by the meeting and wants other Christian leaders to meet with Dr. Paul themselves. “I’m drafting an email for a Christian leader who is a coordinator for a 10 denomination coalition. He will forward the idea about a meeting with church leaders.”
While the Federal government and the Catholic Church wrestle over healthcare provided contraception and abortions, City and County governments may have found a rather unique method of backdoor taxation on non profits. They simply double the water bill for all churches and schools. In a court case that is being carefully watched by churches and non profits across the nation, an Oregon judge will soon decide if the practice is valid.
One of the 600 plus ordinances for the city of Canyonville, Oregon states that “churches, schools, and non-profits like our local YMCA and a non-profit senior residence will be charged double the normal water rates and substantially elevated sewage fees.” One of the current ordinances explains that the surcharges are to be paid “in lieu of taxes.” Non-profits and churches do not pay property taxes.
Meanwhile, a sign, proudly posted in the city building tells Canyonville residents that they pay less on their water bills than neighboring towns. The non-profits, who are paying double, say that their surcharge is the reason.
Canyonville Christian Academy, founded in 1924, stumbled onto the double billing, finding that the extra surcharges date back three decades and may total close to $200,000. Said the school headmaster, Cathy Lovato, “We offered to settle this for a very modest amount last Christmas but the city said no.” The school, which operates on a modest budget, once voted to shut its doors in 1995. Alumni and friends donated money to help the school rebound.
Although the ordinances are written to broadly cover all non-profit water users, CCA believes that the city regulations have principally targeted ten churches and four Christian schools with the biggest bill going to the Canyonville Christian Academy.
Last June CCA notified the city government that it had discovered the improper billing but according to the Academy nothing has been done to fix the problem. According to CCA, the city has held four executive/closed council meetings with their legal counsel present.
School officials say that the school has consulted with the Oregon Attorney General, a state legislator, multiple mayors of other cities, and multiple law firms. According to Ms. Lovato, “To my knowledge, no one has advised CCA that the double charges on churches and church schools is legal. Many seem to believe that this is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
On October 19, 2011 CCA offered to resolve the issue by taking a small fraction of the amount of overcharges of the last six years in the form of credits on future bills. Of course, the school also asked that the city desist in the double charges. According to Ms. Lovato, the city notified the school on December 13, 2011 that their offer was rejected. Meanwhile, the surcharges on nonprofits by the city continues and is reflected in the most recent water bill mailed to CCA this month.
According to Ms. Lovato, “One of our school staff asked a senior city official a year ago about the rationale and legality of the surcharges, and why they were doing this and he replied, ‘We do it because we can.’” Canyonville is a small town in Southern Oregon with a population of 1,700. CCA has appealed to the Douglas County Circuit Court in Roseburg, Oregon to give a ruling on the issue. If the Court upholds the City Government, it may provide other city and county governments with a backdoor method of taxation on churches and non-profits. The case is likely to be carefully monitored by churches and non-profit lawyers nationwide.
Note: The Canyonville City Ordinances which declare the double rate are published and available publicly. Ordinance number 593, Section 1. “Inside the City.” In paragraph G and H. It states that Schools / Churches shall pay $57.10 per month for the first 1,200. cubic feet, plus $.03214 per cubic foot over the base of 1,200 cubic feet. In addition, schools / churches shall pay $11.04 per month in lieu of taxes.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is making a big mistake by prolonging the discussion about his faith. Worse still, he and his staff don’t see it. Last week, Romney, a member of the Latter-Day Saints or Mormon Church, answered back the Rev. Robert Jeffress whose off camera comments apparently labeled Mormon’s a cult. Romney kept the issue alive in the Las Vegas debate. He would help himself much more by ignoring it all and letting others defend him.
For the moment it appears that the incident is a major plus for Romney and it must surely feel that way inside his campaign. Romney has been lovingly embraced by the national media who has risen up to condemn the Southern Baptist preacher. In general, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the world, is not very popular with the media. (Who can forget Christiane Armanpour’s documentary “God’s Warriors,” which likens religious right youth to Islamic terrorists, and is now watched on computers in the dorms of Christian Universities to howls of laughter.)
This defense of Romney must surely be a “feel good” moment for Latter Day Saints, who are too often targets of the very bigotry that the Jeffrey moment seemed to imply. But not so fast. The Saints should not break out the bottles of cranberry juice just yet.
Here is the rub. Romney doesn’t need the national media to win the nomination or the presidency. Reagan and both Bushes won without it. And it’s a good thing. Romney won’t get it no matter how many undeserved wounds he incurs in the internecine GOP contest. The national media had its best opportunity to be truly non partisan when their favorite John McCain won the GOP nomination last time. But McCain had no chance against the historic tide and media extravaganza of electing an African American president. So Romney’s moment will also be short lived. And his unwillingness to understand that speaks to his ongoing misunderstanding of evangelical numbers.
Here’s a short way to put it. He won a moment with the media, which he didn’t need and will be all forgotten in the general election and he lost a chance to win points with evangelical leaders of influence who only need to hesitate, not oppose him, just hesitate, to cost him the White House.
While the media continues to attack Jeffress, his fellow Southern Baptists cry foul. Pastor Jeffress moment of infamy, they say, was a little more complicated than it seems. Jeffress was baited by a journalist questioning him offstage. He was asked what most pastors think and he answered, as the messenger. The very next day the Washington Post ran a story about a poll of 1,000 pastors. 67% in the survey called Mormonism a cult. No one took the Washington Post to task, even though they too, like Jeffress were the messenger.
So what should Mitt Romney have done?
He should have remained silent, transcendent, Reaganesque, above the fray. Like Jesus before Pilate. As the Proverbs say, “It is an honor to overlook an insult.” It is what Barack Obama does daily. Romney should have let others in the evangelical movement come to his rescue.
It is very obvious what happened? Governor Romney must be exasperated with his slow acceptance in the evangelical community. His staff, who remember are on his payroll, probably encouraged him. “Answer back. Stand up. It will be a good moment. There is one thing that trumps religious doctrine with the American people and that’s leadership. It will be your Reagan moment. ‘I paid for this microphone Mr. Green.’ Or like George H. W. Bush standing up to Dan Rather. Jeffress will be Perry’s Jeremiah Wright.”
Mark DeMoss, Romney’s evangelical adviser would know better but he may be so outnumbered that he is worn down or his counsel is outvoted, even discredited, by the inner circle. DeMoss is now trying play to the media stereotype. What can he do?
Privately, he surely told the Romney staff the truth. He would have said, “Look, the object is to get the nomination, not win points with the media.
“And as for any comfort to the Latter-Day Saints? If they think this hurts, wait until the general election, when Governor Romney faces the media’s beloved Obama. The journalists who champion the Governor today, will give his faith a baptism of fire. Remember Proposition 8? When LDS Churches were vandalized and the book of Mormon burned? Where was the ‘tolerant’ media then? You saw some hints of what the media will do in the New York Times last cycle.
“And don’t even think that this is a Jeremiah Wright moment? In the first place Rick Perry doesn’t go to Pastor Jeffress church. And in the second place, that church is First Baptist in Dallas, Texas. That’s the Vatican to the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the world. And 90% of those Southern Baptists live in 14 electoral southern states, the richest electoral region of the nation.
“Just look at the math. 2% of the country are LDS. 12.6% are African-American. And 48% of the nation claim to be born again Christians.”
“It’s not that high,” Romney staffers will shoot back. “Our pollster says that only 26% of the population is evangelical.”
“But our pollsters are asking the wrong question,” DeMoss will try to point out. “Asking someone if they are evangelical” is like asking if they are phlegmatic. They may be, but you are going to get a skewed answer because some won’t know what you are talking about but won’t want to admit it. All they know is that they go to the Nazarene church, or Hillsdale Community Church down the street. But if you ask them if they are ‘born again’ they will say yes.”
The eyes of the Romney staffers will glaze over.
Abraham Lincoln once said that if he could find a general who could do the math he could win the war. He was so frustrated. How can you argue with numbers? The North had the industry and the population. They would win if they would just fight. In the political game, the born again Christians have the numbers. It doesn’t pay to dis them. Ask President Colin Powell, who for years could win any general election match up but not the GOP nomination because of one ill advised attack on evangelicals in a Barbara Walters interview.
It took many losses for the patrician, Episcopalian Bush family to figure out the political math of the born again numbers in this country. No matter how distasteful, you can’t win an election without them. But when the Bush family finally figured it out, they produced two governors and two presidents.
Romney’s fight with Jeffress shows that he and his staff haven’t yet gotten the math.